All about daal

And by daal I mean lentils, legumes and beans. We love ‘em, don’t we? They’re such a significant part of the Indian cuisine that you can’t ever find someone who isn’t fond of them. And rightly so, from the nutritional standpoint. Wonderful micronutrient balance, extremely rich in folate and molybdenum, scarily high in fiber, excellent source of low GI carbs and a decent source of vegetarian protein! What’s not to love for a carb loving vegetarian society?

chana-pindi-recipe

(This amazing photo was shot by the author of this really cool recipe –  www.vegrecipesofindia.com/pindi-chana/)

Anyways. Let’s keep the love and pride going but let’s be careful to not get carried away because these little pods of nutrition aren’t entirely harmless.

Phytate alert 

Now, lentils contain something known as ‘phytates’. We wouldn’t worry much about these little guys if they behaved well. But they don’t. They inhibit and/or slow down absorption of nutrients from healthful foods that work so hard to consume. So in order to reduce phytate content, our ancestors traditionally soaked all lentils, legumes and beans before cooking and consuming them. If anything that changed since then, it is the fact that we consume much lesser nutrients today and it becomes even more important to ensure their absorption is not inhibited.

Carb alert 

Also, remember that lentils are only a decent source of protein but they are a great source of carbohydrates. Depending on the type, each cooked cup will contains 12-20 grams of protein and 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrates. So the ratio between protein and carbohydrates will be ~ 1:3. Now that’s not too bad for most of us.

But the problem is when we combine it with a starch like rice or roti. Since the rice or roti is basically all carbohydrate, the ratio drifts more towards carbohydrates and ends up at ~ 1:6. Which is, well, bad especially considering most of us eat way too much carbohydrate rich foods all day everyday.

Fat alert 

And who eats a plate of lentils just steamed or cooked? We like some tadka on it or we like to maakhni it up or just add some all powerful ghee to it. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating fat, be sure to not overdo it. You don’t want too much tadka or ghee on your daal or beans. And if you’re eating daal maakhni or any preparation of lentils that is rich, you want to remember that it’s not just a harmless bowl of lentils but a dish is dominated by fat and carbohydrates.

Stupid alert 

1 cup means 1 standard cup which is 240 ml. Yes, that coffee tumbler you have at home. No, not the rice bowl you’re pointing at.

Enough alerts. Time for fixes.  

But it’s OK. Not everything is lost. I have some fixes that will help you continue the lentil love saga without having to loosen your trousers.

  1. Soak lentils, legumes, beans and even grains for a few hours before cooking.
  2. Keep the starchy foods to a minimum when you’re going lentil crazy. Yup. No roti or rice. Sucks. But you got yourself into this mess.
  3. Save the rich and creamy lentil dishes for a day of indulgence, which, I’m sure we’ll all agree, isn’t too rare these days.

Cool? Now, if you’d like to understand more, here are some links for further reading.

  1. Stephan Guyenet explains why lentils are real food and how to prepare and consume them for optimal nutrient absorption.
  2.  The fine folks at the Weston A. Price Foundation take it a step further and discuss phytates in detail.
  3. And finally, the in-depth nutritional profile of lentils on WHFoods.com.

Now, you tell me. Was this helpful? Did you learn a thing or two you could use in daily life? Do you have related questions? The more you talk, the more I talk. So share your thoughts here and share the knowledge for your health conscious friends on social media.

Always remember – when in doubt,  keep it simple.

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6 responses to “All about daal

  1. Pavithra Lakshminarasimhan February 17, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Hello RG,

    I’m a regular follower of your blog and found it astonishing about the facts you provide on multiple things. Regarding this All about daal. You have mentioned about combining the daal with roti or rice.

    I come from a typical South Indian Brahmin family. We have been brought up by eating papppu mammu and eating daal with roti. I am not sure how we can have daal without rice or roti. Do you ask us to eat as is.

    It is not very clear. Is it possible for you to be more specific on this ratio of 1:3 & 1:6. What are your suggestions and how can we do it. My liking is rice in lunch and some roti, upma, dosai, idly at night. How can I manage?

    Please suggest. Thanks, Pavithra!

    • RG February 17, 2014 at 12:35 pm

      Hello Pavithra,
      Well, it is unfortunate but lentils with rice = too much carbohydrate which isn’t good for us today given our lifestyles. So treat lentils as a starch with some protein. Don’t add more starch to it. This may mean that pappu sadam can’t quite be a regular anymore. Irrespective, try making dishes that are focus on the lentils/beans. Channa can be eaten as channa masala with roti/rice or it can be eaten as sundal with coconut etc. So, make smart choices and customize it such that it fits your lifestyle.

  2. Dr.T.Stryker February 17, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    No serious scientist would give credibility to any utterance from the Weston Price Foundation.

    • RG February 17, 2014 at 12:18 pm

      And that should concern me because?

      I don’t think everything WAPF says is right but I won’t dismiss everything they say as junk science either. Such an attitude will take us nowhere. The point is to learn from more than one source, especially the ones that challenge your beliefs. WAPF has some recommendations that are legit and some that are, well, aren’t. If you (or that serious scientist you’re referring to) are smart enough, you’ll be able to differentiate between the two and do what you need to do.

  3. krishnan February 17, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    This and various types of the South Indian ‘sundals’ make for healthy eating and avoiding junk food.

  4. Abhi February 17, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    Amazing article as usual Raj. I think you have already covered all this in your previous posts but it always feels nice to read new content from you. Please keep rolling em out. Sincerely, a huge fan.

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